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Improving Parts (and Scores) for Orchestral Musicians

4 Steven Reading

After many wonderful years of horn playing with most (if not all) of the major orchestras in the UK, and touring all over the world with them, and others it was time to hang up my ‘hooter’ and think of something else to do. I have had an interest in computers and music typesetting for many years, so with the advent of Sibelius on the old Acorn computer (now updated to PC - Windows) I started work as a music copyist. Fortunately, I soon found work for the BBC Music Library, and so began a 17-year campaign to rid the orchestral world of the substandard copy that plagues many of our great orchestras’ libraries.

I teamed up with fellow music-typesetting expert, flautist and fellow Sibelius beta tester Ann Miller (a musically-passionate Californian) and we founded Scores Reformed in 2009. There is a wealth of music available that is in the public domain, and therefore out of copyright, which we can transform with our expertise and passion.

We started with operatic arias that were required for a session six days later, and were being held up by the publisher. As many of you will know, because of the loss of hair occasioned by trying to decipher the appalling copy that is generally available, these were a true labour, but they saved the sessions!

What we didn’t realise was that hire companies charge an inflated fee on top of the already not-inconsiderable sum for any activity other than performance. We made a policy decision never to do this. Once a set has been bought or hired from us, you may use it for whatever purpose without further fees.

After the success of the Arias project (to date, 53 arias in the catalogue), we decided to expand into the orchestral repertoire.

We now have over 175 titles (and counting) in our orchestral catalogue.

I have to explain our ethos.

Both Ann and I were, and sometimes still are, professional orchestral musicians. We have had some truly awful music put in front of us over the years, which, at its basest level, is a shocking insult to the integrity and status of the musicians. As an example, one major UK orchestra was performing a symphony of a major composer. The parts were a total disgrace. So, after the concert, the librarian sent back the music and complained to the publisher. The reply came back:

“How was the concert?”

“It went very well.”

“So what’s the problem?”

The librarian  was dumbstruck by this response. Despite all the problems, the musicians had done what they always have and always will do – used their expertise to triumph over adversity.

Musicians deserve better. They are not being well served by the major publishers who have little or no interest in spending any money to make things right, while relying on the long-suffering orchestral librarians and musicians, and their professionalism, to carry them (and their profits) through.

We want to change this.

We are aware that all printed copy of any medium will, by its very nature, contain errors, typos, or - putting it bluntly – mistakes. These have been in existence ever since the originals were engraved onto plates, sometimes poorly, many years ago.

As Ann Drinan so succinctly states in her 2006 article in Polyphonic.org:

“Another mistake in your part? Must be a Kalmus edition, right? We all know that they intentionally put errors in the part so that they can retain the copyright. Right? Wrong!!

Karen Schnackenberg has asked Clinton Nieweg, retired Principal Librarian of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and his colleague Jennifer Johnson, now Asst. Principal Librarian of the Minnesota Orchestra, to explain why certain editions contain errors and why we’re not justified in blaming Kalmus. Turns out we should blame the people who made the original plates!”

Some major publishers and distributors still use these plates, and therefore the errors are never corrected, other than by the hard-pressed orchestral librarian. Many of the corrections are then erased, because of the hirer’s demands that ‘all marks must be removed before return, or charges will be made.’  This, we feel, is nonsensical. How else can errors be rectified other than by the experts who read and use the copy?

Our scores, despite our best efforts, will undoubtedly contain, as we call them, ‘bugs.’  The difference between other publishers and Scores Reformed is that, when you take one of our sets, you are encouraged to ‘spot the bug’ and let us know. Never erase them, mark them up! We then will correct anything that needs altering, and send you, by return, and free of charge, a PDF of the corrected score/part. This way we work together in partnership with you, the orchestral librarian, to produce the optimal scores and parts for the musicians. We do not know of another publisher that does this.

Another by-product of our system is that all the scores and parts are held by us in digital format. Does one of your musicians - or that soprano who can’t reach the high notes - need a part or even a score transposed? One mouse click and it’s done.

To date we have had good success with our editions, with many orchestras using our material. (Please see our website www.scoresreformed.co.uk for an up-to-date client list.)  The site will be updated in the next few weeks, so please bear with us.

We are always open to suggestions regarding new repertoire, so if you have any pet hates that would benefit from our expertise, we ask you to let us know.

If any of you are going to be at the 2013 MOLA conference in Portland Oregon next month, I would be delighted to meet you. For those who cannot make it to Portland, please feel free to contact me by email at admin@scoresreformed.co.uk.

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4 comments feed top ↑

  1. Steven Reading Comment by Steven Reading
    April 7, 2019 at 5:12 AM

    One thing I forgot to mention, although it seems to me to pretty self evident, is that we are in existence to promote performance parts and study scores, rather than erudite ‘critical editions’ As former players all we required was copy that was

    a) correct
    b) legible

    Since we started Scores Reformed in 2009 our goal has been to provide clean, correct legible copy for the hard pressed musicians on stage, under pressure and often unconsidered.

  2. Steven Reading Comment by Steven Reading
    April 7, 2019 at 3:45 AM

    Thanks for your post. You are right, when we started we did concentrate on the ‘standard’ repertoire. Both composers you cite were direct requests, one from a major publisher who is using our ‘base’ files for their own new critical edition, another from a major orchestra who wanted good replacement material when theirs was falling apart. They didn’t want to get a new set from the usual supplier, so they came to us.

    Since then we have usually worked on repertoire that has been suggested by librarians world-wide that needs (in their opinion) re-doing.

    I think, if you take a detailed look at the catalogue, you will see some interesting new repertoire.

    Steve

  3. Comment by Bassclef
    April 6, 2019 at 12:41 PM

    Hi! I checked your catalogue and it strikes me you’re offering your own versions on some VERY standard works, e.g. a new edition for Dvorak Symph 8, published in 2011.
    Breitkopf & Härtel released a new Urtext edition for Dvorak 8 just a couple of years ago. What are the differences between your Dvorak and the Breitkopf Dvorak edited by Doege? Are you bringing something new Breitkopf is not?

    And the Tchaik symphonies 4-5-6; how do your editions differ from the standard ones (Breitkopf most widely used, I believe)?

    Just asking out of curiousity.

  4. Comment by jani
    April 6, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    This seems to be a great idea. Though, is your material only improved Kalmus and other older editions, or do you do research on autograph materials as well?

    I looked at you samples at your web site and I think they seem to be based on the original editions. Also, why do you use english instrument names, though originals have those in italian? As a professional engraver I would use original instrument names.

    When looking e.g. Dvorak Symphony 8 score sample, I notice that you use basic settings of Sibelius and not much editing has been done to make it look professional (=good). e.g. pianissimo in the bar 6 that belongs to the bassoon 1, should be above the stave, not below. Also cresc-dim hairpins that are in the bassoon, should they also be in the clarinet and horn parts?

    Also, why don’t you sub-brackets in flutes and trombones? This should be done too.